Spore for Mac and Spore Origins for iPhone/iPod touch Released

Yesterday, the long awaited Spore was finally released here in the US.

Spore, a product of Sims mastermind Will Wright, has been in development for some 8 years with the public knowing about the game for about the last 3-4 years. The lengthy development time along with multiple release-date delays built up a huge amount of anticipation for the game.

Spore is a multi-genre “massively single-player online game” developed by Maxis and designed by Will Wright. It allows a player to control the evolution of a species from its beginnings as a unicellular organism, through development as an intelligent and social creature, to interstellar exploration as a spacefaring culture. It has drawn wide attention for its massive scope, and its use of open-ended gameplay and procedural generation. (Wikipedia)

In addition to the game itself, there is also an extensive online database of all the creatures users have created called Sporepedia. It currently has over 8.4 million user-created creatures. (If you have a Spore account and are logged in, feel free to check out my Spore profile.)

My initial impression of the game is that it is incredibly addictive and fun. There are a slew of complexities that make the game a different experience for every player and helps keep the game fresh. I’ve been playing the game on my MacBook Pro (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, 3GB RAM). Initially the framerate on the game felt really slow so after reducing some of the graphic settings in the game everything felt incredibly smooth. It was a bit of a letdown that the game wouldn’t run at full graphic capacity on my MBP. I’ll be doing a full, in-depth review in the coming weeks on game play and performance.

Spore Origins

Last week, Spore Origins for regular iPods was released. And now, 5 days later, Spore Origins for the iPhone/iPod touch has been released and is available for purchase in the iTunes App Store for $9.99.

Spore Origins is essentially just the Cell Phase of the regular Spore game that consists of you, as a microbe, swimming around eating other creatures. You then upgrade/evolve your creature as you gain more DNA.

Overall gameplay is really smooth and the tilt control works better than I thought it would. It’s not an incredibly complex game but it’s still a lot of fun.

Have you played Spore or Spore Origins? What has been your initial impression as far as performance and game play goes?

On Farting iPhones: Where should Apple draw the line?

Since the App Store’s launch back in June, I’ve had mixed feelings about the overall level of quality of the applications for sale. Knowing that Apple has control over what does and does not make it in to the store initially had me with the mindset that they should indeed do a bit of quality assurance. If they already said they’d control the floodgates, then I just assumed they should make sure only quality stuff made it through the door.

But yesterday, news of an interesting event sort of shifted my mindset on things.

The basic gist of the story is that a completely legitimate application was submitted to Apple for inclusion in the App Store, only to be reject:

We’ve reviewed your application Pull My Finger. We have determined that this application is of limited utility to the broad iPhone and iPod touch user community, and will not be published to the App Store.

Yes, Apple rejected an app that turns your iPhone in to a farting machine. Watch the video and you’ll see there is plenty of “utility” in this application…infinitely more than something like a beer simulator or a glowing ruby.

But arguing over whether farting or beer drinking with your iPhone is really not the issue…though that would certainly be an interesting conversation. The real issue here is where can Apple consistently draw the line? And should they even draw a line at all?

Apple lets just about anything in to the iTunes music store as well as the Downloads area of Apple.com. So why would they opt to have such a stronghold on the App Store?
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A Note About Weak iPhone Apps

According to Apple’s latest iPhone ad, there are over 1000 apps in the App store (roughly 1500 if my simple math is correct). With the App store being only a month and a half old, that is a pretty impressive number. As with all platforms, the store has diamonds in the rough, and the rough is what makes those diamonds possible. I have two major beefs with iPhone apps that add to the roughage.

Paying for Web Apps

With the college football season fast approaching, I have turned into, as I do every year, a sucker for anything related to news, the rankings, and BCS. When I saw that the Associated Press released an app for tracking their top 25, I thought it would be a great idea to get it; it was only 99 cents, after all, and it was probably pretty good. The frustrating thing is that it is just a spiced up interface of a web app. I shouldn’t have to pay for something that is available in a better format on the web with no added functionality. In fact, if I save the web clip of ESPN’s rankings page, I get essentially the same thing with more information

iPhone apps should be about making the content available even if you don’t have access to the internet. That is what separates them from web apps. In addition, downloading the top 25 teams and info onto your phone or touch would make the coverflow of the top 25 teams more fluid and more like coverflow. Since it must constantly refresh from the internet, it is painstakingly slow in its current state.

I must admit that a great feature is streaming the AP’s podcast about the rankings, which makes it more beneficial. But, yet again, it sure would be better to have that downloaded for when you don’t have your internet connection.

Poor Commercialization Attempts

I fully support good efforts to make money in other areas by offering content on the iPhone. It bothers me when applications show up in the App store which are clearly designed to help sell a different product that is good, but the iPhone app is worthless. Here is an example. Audi’s A4, a sweet car, is promoted by this iPhone app.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not the worst game out there, but there are a couple of things that just make it seem like all they wanted was an app with Audi’s name on it (and maybe that is all they wanted). I think of excellent quality and attention to detail when I think of Audi. And that is not what we get here.

First, the only orientation you can have is landscape, and it is opposite the default for movies and most other things in landscape (you turn the device to the right, instead of the left). You have two choices for speed: 60 MPH, or 0 MPH. If you stray from the course, it snaps you back onto the course, facing a direction that causes you to grossly over-correct, because you are turning the phone to stay in bounds and that causes you to go almost perpendicular to the track and careen off to the other out-of-bounds area.

What It Means

I am sure that everyone out there would be overjoyed if all the “bad” applications were not in the app store. While it would be a good idea, we all see the qualities we like in apps. Surely, there is someone out there that loves every app in the store. I am sure some of you are thinking, “Dude, it’s 99 cents! Why are you getting all bent out of shape about it?” That is ok, we are all entitled to our opinions.

What I am really saying is: Apple needs bad apps in the store. If Apple pulled apps that weren’t perfect, there would be a huge uproar from people who thought they created a good app, but got kicked out when “someone” decided the app wasn’t good enough.

We need an open marketplace, where people can make poorly-designed products right next to amazing products. We have already seen furor over slow app updating and quick app removals for no reason.

Even though we may not like those weak apps, we (and Apple) need them.

The Darker Side Of iPhone App Development

I’m in the middle of building an iPhone app (for eventual distribution in the App Store) and, given what happened recently with NetShare, I took a moment to step back and see just how much control Steve & Co. have over the potential livelihood of iPhone developers. It turns out, being part of the iPhone Developer Program is a bit like tuning in to the Outer Limits.

Apple Controls The Horizontal

The iTunes App Store is the main venue for developers to purvey their wares to the masses. Apple has complete control over what gets in and when an app gets in to the store and whether it stays in the store (e.g. NetShare). Despite all the hard work that may have gone into developing a killer application, Apple may reject it outright or significantly delay the release. And, because there is no competition (jailbreak/Installer.app does not count), there really is no recourse.

The same is not true in traditional app development & distribution as you, the developer, have much more control over where you can sell your app and when you make releases available.

Apple Controls The Vertical

If you manage to get into the program, there is another way to get your app into the hands of iPhone users via a deployment method that allows for performing limited distribution (ostensibly for engaging beta testers). Apple could effectively kill this venue (and also the App Store venue at the same time) by simply revoking the certificate of the developers of the application. Since Apple forces all legitimate iPhone apps to be signed, if the certificate is on the “revocation list” no apps signed with that certificate will run anywhere. This would come as quite a shock to your paying customers.

This code-signing is an integral part of the development and deployment processes. Apple has not made it easy to get right and it is easy to see why they chose to go this route: control.

Feature Blackout

Finally, there appears to be a “kill switch” lurking within – at least – the API that allows access to iPhone location information. This URL: https://iphone-services.apple.com/clbl/unauthorizedApps is embedded into the firmware and contains, for now, an “empty” file of blacklisted iPhone applications:

	"Date Generated" = "2008-08-10 04:34:00 Etc/GMT";
	"BlackListedApps" = {
		"com.mal.icious" = {
			"Description" = "Being really bad!";
			"App Name" = "Malicious";
			"Date Revoked" = "2004-02-01 08:00:00 Etc/GMT";

This appears to be a separate means of ensuring “bad” applications cannot “play” on Apple’s turf, but there is no mention of this anywhere in official Apple documentation (that I have found). Developers have no real idea what their app can do to get on or, more importantly, off this list (though it may have something to do with abuse of location data information, given where this URL is found in the firmware).

While this entire article dances on the perimeter of the NDA, it would be interesting to get even some anonymous perspectives on how you feel about iPhone development, especially if you have developed for other, more open, platforms before. If you started developing, but then abandoned it due to the associated headaches and requirements, definitely let TAB readers know you story.

My Holy Grail Of iPhone Apps Arrives: pTerm

Just this week I was posing the question of where are all the (no-jailbreak-required) ssh/terminal apps for the iPhone? While not the best platform for such a tool (the keyboard would – and does, as you will see – eat up some serious real estate), the platform has enough processing power to handle such an app and there are definitely times when it is handy to get ultra-portable access to your systems.

As if they were listening for my request, Instant Cocoa released pTerm, which provides support for SSH, Telnet and taw TCP client connections from your iPhone. pTerm is based on PuTTY, one of the more stable & well-known ssh client suites (OS X users can grab that via some ports).
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I Am Rich: Proof that Apple doesn’t do any quality control with the App Store

What more can I say, the fact that this application is live in the App Store proves Apple couldn’t possibly do more than have a drone sitting in a cubicle hitting “Approve” on new apps for the App Store.

I present to you I Am Rich.

I think the big problem here is that Apple has touted the fact that they will only let “quality” applications in to reduce the possibility of the App Store getting overrun with crap. If this isn’t crap, I don’t know what is.

UPDATE: It seems this useless app was pulled from the store. Thank goodness.

WordPress For iPhone

WordPress launched an iPhone app for posting blog entries right from your device. With my Mac out of commission yet-again, I thought a good test would be a TAB post using only the client.

I used my 1st gen iPhone and the EDGE network to grab the app from the mobile version of the app store. It downloaded and installed very quickly and I was set to go in less than 3 minutes. The app enabled you to setup multiple WP blogs and only needs your site URL and credentials. It then sucks down all your customized settings for posts (quickly, even over EDGE) and lets you start blogging right away. The “Write” screen makes quick work of title, keyword and category entries (very well done interface) and you have the option of saving to local drafts or posting to your site.

Typing a full blog post on the iPhone is no small feat (esp. if you have large fingers) and I was disappointed that there was no option to rotate the display to take advantage of the larger width keyboard.

It does let you embed photos/pictures from your iPhone library (and lets you take one right from the app) – we’ll see how the Seattle library photo looks that I just took and attached.

The app also lets you preview posts in your site template and gives you the option to password protect it.

The WordPress folks obviously spent a great deal of time and energy working on the interface and functionality. While the iPhone autocorrect can make some typing annoying, my overall first impressions are very good. It did crash once on me, but most developers are quick to blame OS 2.0 for bugs.

If you give the app a try, let TAB readers know how it worked for your configuration by dropping a note in the comments.

This whole post was created solely on the iPhone except for the WordPress logo and interface screenshot.


RSS Feed of New Apps

Pinch Media is a small company that serves iPhone developers (and iPhone users). They are located in New York and get a kick out of tracking and analyzing App Store data. They measure the percentage of free apps and things like that. They don’t have any of Apple’s sales data, or anything like that, but they do organize a lot of user-side data. It is pretty interesting, and fun to watch.

Today, however, they released something that will benefit a lot of users: an RSS feed of new apps.

Whenever a new App is updated, this RSS feed tells you. It gives you the name of the app, the category, release date, price, and a link to the app’s page in the App Store. They are working on including the description as well.

Pinch media offers a similar feed for updated apps as well. In addition to those two feeds, you can also get a daily list of the top 100 paid and top 100 free apps. Be forewarned: the top 100 apps will show up as 100 different items, so your reader might explode.

10 Must-Have iPhone/iPod Touch Games

Despite the issues Apple had with product launches this past week, the launch of the App Store has been an overwhelming success, with over 10 million downloads in the first weekend.

The App Store is home to a plethora of applications in over a dozen different categories. Some applications do make you wonder how Apple ever approved them, but for the most part the selection really is top notch. The most entertaining category (and certainly the one that has wasted most of my time and money) is the Games category.

With over 40 different games currently in the store, it can be a bit overwhelming to know what is worth your money and what is not. I took a go at quite a few of the games and have put together my top 10 favorite ones (some free, some not). Check out the list and then let me know what games you have been enjoying.
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Apple sells over 1 million iPhone 3Gs; Over 10 million downloads from App store

Apple has reason to celebrate. The company reported that it had sold over one million iPhone 3G’s by Sunday.

“iPhone 3G had a stunning opening weekend,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “It took 74 days to sell the first one million original iPhones, so the new iPhone 3G is clearly off to a great start around the world.”

The launch of the much hyped iPhone 3G wasn’t without problems. Apple servers, due to excessive traffic, had reached the breaking point and in some cases stopped working. People purchasing the iPhone 3G in Apple and AT&T stores were sent home to activate it at home via iTunes.  At home, some users still ran into problems activating their new phones.

I have to admit I was slightly surprised when I heard this news. Apple has had months to prepare for opening day. Based on the reaction to the first generation iPhone, Apple should have expected this type of reaction. Perhaps it exceeded Apple’s wildest expectations. It makes you wonder what type of sales Apple would have this past weekend if it hadn’t run into problems?

Another hot place to be while surfing the net was Apple’s App store. Over ten million applications were downloaded over the weekend. I joined the masses that flocked to the App store. I did experience a few delays on opening day however this past Monday when I purchased applications for my newly purchased 32GB iPod touch I didn’t experience any issues. IPod touch users have the option to download iPod touch software 2.0 for $9.95 which will enable them to gain access to the App store, and have access to MobileMe.

When the App store opened its virtual doors, it had just over 500 applications. Now there are over 800 applications to choose from. The majority of the apps are less than $10 and there are also 200 free applications available.

For those who purchased the iPhone 3G did you run into any problems?  Did any of you iPhone or iPod touch users download any apps? Let us know in the comments section.